Did you read any good books in 2019? This year I was fortunate enough to read 29 books, and you’ll find my “Robert Rating (RR) below. Not as many this past year as the 100 books I read a few years ago (see http://www.robert-miller.com/books-read-2012/), but for the most part, I enjoyed all the books I selected this year. My reading list of the 22 books I read the year before this one is here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/robert-miller/the-books-of-2018/10157042310309540/.If I tagged you in this post, we have discussed books, or I have given you books I finished at some point, or you asked me for recommendations at some point in the past 12 months.
The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Story of the Cold War, by Ben Macintyre
R/R: 5.0/5.0 A fascinating account of the true story of KGB officer and diplomat Oleg Gordievsky, who was an influential member from an influential family in the USSR, who then became disillusioned with communism and became a spy for the United Kingdom, and the subject of a CIA operation to determine who the UK’s spy from the USSR would be. Macintyre is an excellent writer, and the thrilling story of ongoing espionage, terminating with a defection from the Soviet Union, is an important story from a historical perspective, and a great read.
The Man on Mao’s Right, by Ji Chaozhou
RR: 5.0/5.0 The fact that this was an area of history and geography that I had little to no knowledge about made this story even more fascinating. Although I am guessing that there is some reservedness for political reasons in the biography conveyed here, the criticisms and praise for people in the Chinese government during the period of maximum historical change (from the Cultural Revolution to the rise of successful capitalist China), is endlessly fascinating. A long book, but never drags and with well-paced and descriptive writing that I cannot say enough about.
iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us, by Jean M. Twenge Ph.D. RR: 5.0/5.0. As the parent of a teen, this book was fascinating. Using research into the most recent specific generation (which is the focus of the academic studies of Ms. Twenge), she outlines how the world changed with the iPhone and smartphones from 2007 and beyond. She describes how today’s youth are subject to introversion and depression, are risk-averse, and suffer from anxiety and addiction to social media. Teen pregnancies, crimes, use of alcohol or drugs, and even willingness to drive have dropped to almost nothing. Really well-documented look at what the next generation (and our future) looks like.
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy The Odds, by David Goggins
RR: 5.0/5.0. This book is an amazing true story. The biography of David Goggins, who grew up in the worst possible childhood, facing prejudice, child abuse, and poverty, and who motivated himself to become a Navy Seal and Army Ranger, and then later in life an Ultra Marathoner (he has run more than sixty ultramarathons. The book is less effective as an advice/self-help book, and more an incredibly amazing story.
Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Guide to Anxiety, by Charlie Hoehn
RR: 5.0/5.0 This is a short book, written by someone with no professional credentials in psychology or anxiety, other than suffering from it. Building off other books, the author makes the point that depression and anxiety can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, by two things – social friendships, and play. He recommends reading this book with a frisbee nearby. Unfortunately, the links written in the book are no longer active, but the book is good on its own.
Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Method to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
R/R: 5.0/5.0 This book is famous in the productivity genre, and for good reason. Moving from a personal story to the main idea of the book, that behaviors are usually triggered by cues (and how to change them), this book is more complex than it may seem.
The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Independence, by J.L. Collins
RR: 5.0/5.0 If you’ve read any personal finance books in the past, this book will cover many subjects and approaches you’ve already learned. But it is well written, and for many is all you need. This is a rational, long term investment strategy book, that begins by taking a close look at your existing finances and looking towards what your financial goals are.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
RR: 4.5/5. Although not as powerful or as brilliant as his other books, “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”, this book is filled with insights on meditation, artificial intelligence, terrorism, nationalism, education, justice, and what it means to be a fully realized person and responsible citizen of the world. Even with some flaws, and a feeling that this is the “light” version of his other books, this is definitely a wonderful book, with very clear and insightful writing.
Extreme Leadership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
R/R: 4.5/5.0. This book is a mix of war stories from battles and Iraq and lessons learned that are applicable to management and leadership. Jocko Willink is an amazing military leader that has gone through some horrible (and brave) war experiences, (and I enjoy his podcast), but this book attempts to make the connection between war and corporate management through some weak arguments. The war stories are great. The lessons learned here, (which all seem to be, you need discipline) are a stretch at best.
Deep Nutrition, by Catherine Shanahan and Luke Shanahan
R/R: 4.5/5.0 This nutrition book is broken into several segments. The parts regarding commonalities in native diets around the world are excellent, although I am not sure if the gene expression or beauty proportion arguments from nutrition hold water. The book focuses on the “Four Pillars of Nutrition”: (Meat on the Bone (including bone broth and grass-fed meats), Organ Meats, Fermented/Sprouted Foods, Fresh, Uncooked Ingredients and avoiding sugars and most vegetable oils). A great book and worth reading, however.
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and in Business, by Charles Duhigg
RR: 4.5/5.0. This author, who wrote the book “The Power of Habit”, is excellent at brilliantly explaining simple practical concepts. This book is not as good as his last one, but focuses on motivation, motivating teams and managing others, and focusing on goals. Full of anecdotes, Duhigg is a great storyteller and this book is worth a read.
The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up A Generation for Failure, by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukanioff
RR: 4.5/5.0 This was a book title that I was probably predisposed not to be favorable towards. However, the book, and the authors, very much lay out their case here and make a compelling argument. The book starts out by laying out how our political system and educational system have “three great untruths”: (1. The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker, 2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings, 3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battled Between Good People and Evil People), and then begins to show how those are not true, and actually cause more harm than their good intentions intend to prevent. One suggestion at the end of the book, that college students be required to live in communities that are the opposite of what they grew up in, while probably impossible to implement, stuck with me as a wonderful idea.
The Uninhabitable World: Life after Global Warming by David Wallace-Wells
RR: 4.5/5.0. Intended to be a wakeup call about the effects of Global Warming, the author examines the evidence supporting anthropocentric caused warming and global consequences of what that increase means. Much of this book is speculative, by its very nature, but it is shocking what the effect of even just a degree or two of temperature increase can bring.
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Michael Greger, M.D., and Gene Stone
RR: 4.5/5. This book simply explores how food has good effects, and bad effects, on the body. While that seems intuitive, I don’t think that “sticks” with most people. As all nutritionists would agree, vegetables are good for you. This discusses why vegans/vegetarians are not the healthiest category of people, but also recommends a primarily vegetable plant diet, minimizing especially heavily processed foods. According to this book, berries and leafy greens, in particular, are as a category much higher in good effects on the body than all others, and to a lesser extent cruciferous vegetables, and then root vegetables and fungi, and all should be eaten daily.
Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance between Astrophysics and the Military, by Neil Degrasse Tyson and Avis Lang
RR: 4.5/5.0. This book does have a different feel to Tyson’s other books, as it has a co-writer that I assume did much of the writing. It’s a relatively long book (576 pages), but doesn’t seem to be arguing towards a particular point, only repeatedly trying to impress the reader with the fact that throughout history, from telescopes to GPS satellites, kingdoms and other forms of government have used science to try to increase capabilities to wage war against other nations or states. Still has some very interesting anecdotes from a number of cultures and countries and describes scientific discoveries well.
The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, By Jason Fung, MD
RR: 4.5/5. This book, and Dr. Fung’s career, advocates weight loss by practicing two things – fasting for 24-36 hours, and strictly following a low to no carbohydrate diet. The science here is simplified and not well explained, but focuses on insulin, and the claim that insulin increases fat storage and hunger, and over time, increases fat on the body.
The Feeling Good Handbook, by David D. Burns
R/R: 4.5/5. Enough people had mentioned this book that I thought I would purchase it and review it. It’s a very practical guide of “best practices” to lead people out of worry, anxiety, depression, etc., and has many insights on why people end up in these (and other) negative thinking patterns. Many claim this book changed their thinking about a number of things, and I can see why.
The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea, by Bob Burg and John David Mann
RR: 4.0/5.0. A simple business story/parable about a young man who receives advice from “the Chairman” to put others interests first, and to give by providing value in everything he does, can change how business operates.
Wired This Way: A Guide to Understanding and Maximizing Your Personality Type, by Marita Littauer
RR: 4.0/5.0 Another in a large number of books that begin by testing, and then categorizing, you in one of 4/5 bins. (See “The Four Tendencies”, the Meyers-Briggs, “Find Your Love Language”, etc.). Psychology recognizes five “big character traits”, so there may be a correlation, and this book may help those that need to act as though (or figure out why) certain things motivate them more than others. The other speaks about herself an ungodly amount, however.
The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, by Josh Kaufman
RR: 40./5.0 This book, which started out as a series of blog articles, still feels somewhat like… a series of blog articles. If you run a business, read business books, or have taken business level college classes, this is ground that has already been covered. But the idea here is to distill best practices regarding marketing, accounting, managing, and it manages to do this at an overview level.
Start Something That Matters, by Blake Mycoskie
RR: 3.5/5. A short book featuring the amazing story of the cable network and marketing employee that went on a vacation to Argentina at age 29 and was inspired to start a shoe company. The book, of course, doesn’t delve into the bad news about the company, and about how it was much less effective than advertised. But the simple and straightforward ideas here, and the story of how TOMs Shoes started, is a good one.
Fixing my Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions, by Susan R. Barry RR: 3.5/5. This book is simply a personal story from a scientist (a neuroscientist) who went through an intensive vision training program and finally was able to see in three dimensions, retraining her brain. This book is a simple anecdote regarding vision and describing how her perceptions changed. Not that interesting unless you have a similar vision problem.
The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham
RR: 3.5/5. This book was published in 1949 and inspired Warren Buffett, who was a student of Graham. Not a beginner’s guide to investing, and certainly dated in many aspects. Chapter 8 and Chapter 20 are probably the only chapters with concise and still applicable advice.
The Silkworm: A Cormoran Strike Novel (2), by Robert Galbraith
RR: 3.5/5. As many already know, “Robert Galbraith” is a nom de plume for author J.K. Rowling, which explains the success of this series of novels. The plot, which involves authors and publishing, is a world I am sure Rowling knows well. But this attempt at a detective murder mystery/action novel just felt cliché and flat to me. This book didn’t make me want to read the rest of the series.
What Would Machiavelli Do: The Ends Justify the Meanness, by Stanley Bing
RR: 3.5/5. I am still not sure whether this is a full satire or is meant to teach some social skills to move up in the world, but the author starts by indicating it’s based on some of the “What would Jesus Do” writings, and looks at Machiavellian influence during the renaissance and beyond. Not historically accurate, not really humorous enough to enjoy or recommend.
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
RR: 3/5. A novel with an interesting premise, but one that is too ridiculous to be even close to believable, especially the courtroom scenes. With poorly written dialogue, and an ending you can see a mile away, those flaws, unfortunately, make this difficult to recommend.
The Rational Male, by Rollo Tomasi
RR: 3/5. I can’t remember who recommended this book to me a few years ago, but I finally read it this year. This book attempts to look at inter-gender male/female relationships and makes some unsupported and broad assumptions and bold statements that aren’t necessarily supported by evidence (although some certainly are). The style of writing is unprofessional and varies in how clear the writing is from chapter to chapter.
A Mind of Her Own, by Paula McClain
R/R: 3.0/5.0 This short book focuses on a specific time period in the life of Madame Marie Curie, which was when she met her husband, Pierre Curie, who pursued her to the point of obsession, and their meeting changed both their lives and the world.
Junk, by Les Bohem
R/R: 1.5/5.0. This book, about a private detective in Los Angeles who is investigating alien DNA, is bizarre and meandering. Not worth considering.